May-June 2008 Issue • Volume 36 • Issue 5

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ASA Announces the 2007-2008
ASA Congressional Fellow

by Jamie Panzarella, ASA Publications Department

Elisabeth Jacobs

The ASA is pleased to welcome Elisabeth Jacobs as the next ASA Congressional Fellow.

Currently working as a Pre-Doctoral Research Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, Jacobs will defend her dissertation in mid-May and graduate from Harvard University with a PhD in sociology in early June. During her fellowship on Capitol Hill, Jacobs will work in the office of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), which is chaired by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA).

Experience with Policy Work

Jacobs comes to Washington with a wide range of policy experience. Much of her academic work has been in the policy arena. She has worked with Harvard’s Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality and Social Policy participating in three year-long seminars aimed at linking policy with research. Several of her research apprenticeships were directly related to policy evaluation. She worked with Xavier Da Souza Briggs, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to contribute to the design of the second round of qualitative research for the Moving to Opportunity Project, a federally funded housing voucher program that moves families from high-poverty neighborhoods to low-poverty neighborhoods. In collaboration with William Julius Wilson, she conducted a wide array of research on the impact of Clinton era welfare reform policy.

Even in her non-academic work, Jacobs has had a policy focus. She is the co-founder and co-director of New Vision, a network of young scholars aiming to bridge academia and public policy. With New Vision, Jacobs’ oversaw the development of a policy brief recommending a summer scholarship program for youth, based on the academic research on summer learning loss. By partnering with the Center for American Progress, the ideas in the brief ultimately became The Step Up Act (S. 2149), introduced by Senator Barack Obama.

Before starting graduate school, Jacobs worked as a research associate with the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law and served as a consultant on minimum wage and economic development policy issues for New York City Council Member David Yassky’s campaign in 2000.

Sociology at work for a Senate Committee

Jacobs looks forward to bringing her sociology training and policy experience to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. "My sociological training has provided a set of theories for understanding policy problems," said Jacobs. "Sociological theories on stratification, networks, and status provide a basis for conceptualizing policy solutions to economic issues such as unemployment. Theories of institutions and path dependence provide a unique perspective on the policy process, including a theoretical basis for understanding why some policies endure and others do not."

Jacobs believes that bringing sociology to Capitol Hill is a two-way street. "Sociologists have a great deal to offer policymakers, and by making the tools and knowledge of the sociologist available to policymakers, we can contribute to the development of effective, solution-oriented policies. Likewise, sociologists have a great deal to learn from policymakers, and by spending some time directly engaged in the policymaking world, sociologists can generate research that more effectively advances social welfare."

While on Capitol Hill, Jacobs has five goals she hopes to achieve. Working on HELP, Jacobs looks forward to enhancing her understanding of the policy process; developing a deeper technical knowledge of specific policy issues; learning more about the role of empirical evidence in the policy arena; developing a network of relationships with policymakers and their staff; and diversifying her communication skills.

"I’m very excited about working with the Committee staff and the Senator, and I think the fit between the Committee’s jurisdiction and my own interests is tailor-made," said Jacobs. "My dissertation looks at family economic insecurity, and highlights the importance of strengthening and modernizing the safety net for American families. Given the current economic crisis, the connection between the kinds of problems that my academic work examines and the very real challenges facing American families today is clear, and I look forward to learning the ropes and putting my knowledge base to work in service of creating sound public policy."

Jacobs is ready to enter the "day-to-day rough-and-tumble of legislative politics and policy-making" of her six-month ASA Congressional Fellowship, which begins on June 16, 2008.

In addition to serving on a congressional staff, the Fellow spends time preparing briefing materials, participating in an ASA congressional or media briefings on a timely topic, and contributing stories to Footnotes. The ASA Spivack Program on Applied Social Research and Social Policy administers and funds the Fellowship. The next application deadline is February 1, 2009. See the ASA website at and click on "funding" for application information. small_green.gif


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